Skip to main content
Humanities Libertexts

19.4: Dead Man’s Dump

  • Page ID
    3276
  • [ "article:topic" ]

    The plunging limbers[1] over the shattered track
    Racketed with their rusty freight[2],
    Stuck out like many crowns of thorns,
    And the rusty stakes like sceptres old
    To stay the flood of brutish men
    Upon our brothers dear.

    The wheels lurched over sprawled dead
    But pained them not, though their bones crunched;
    Their shut mouths made no moan,
    They lie there huddled, friend and foeman,
    Man born of man, and born of woman;
    And shells go crying over them
    From night till night and now.

    Earth has waited for them,
    All the time of their growth
    Fretting for their decay:
    Now she has them at last!
    In the strength of her strength
    Suspended – stopped and held.

    What fierce imaginings their dark souls lit?
    Earth! Have they gone into you?
    Somewhere they must have gone,
    And flung on your hard back
    Is their souls’ sack,
    Emptied of God-ancestralled essences.
    Who hurled them out? Who hurled?

    None saw their spirits’ shadow shake the grass,
    Or stood aside for the half-used life to pass
    Out of those doomed nostrils and the doomed mouth,
    When the swift iron burning bee
    Drained the wild honey of their youth.

    What of us who, flung on the shrieking pyre,
    Walk, our usual thoughts untouched,
    Our lucky limbs as on ichor[3] fed,
    Immortal seeming ever?
    Perhaps when the flames beat loud on us,
    A fear may choke in our veins
    And the startled blood may stop.

    The air is loud with death,
    The dark air spurts with fire,
    The explosions ceaseless are.
    Timelessly now, some minutes past,
    These dead strode time with vigorous life,
    Till the shrapnel called ‘An end!’
    But not to all. In bleeding pangs
    Some borne on stretchers dreamed of home,
    Dear things, war-blotted from their hearts.

    A man’s brains splattered on
    A stretcher-bearer’s face;
    His shook shoulders slipped their load,
    But when they bent to look again
    The drowning soul was sunk too deep
    For human tenderness.

    They left this dead with the older dead,
    Stretched at the cross roads.
    Burnt black by strange decay
    Their sinister faces lie,
    The lid over each eye;
    The grass and coloured clay
    More motion have than they,
    Joined to the great sunk silences.

    Here is one not long dead.
    His dark hearing caught our far wheels,
    And the choked soul stretched weak hands
    To reach the living word the far wheels said;
    The blood-dazed intelligence beating for light,
    Crying through the suspense of the far torturing wheels
    Swift for the end to break
    Or the wheels to break,
    Cried as the tide of the world broke over his sight,
    ‘Will they come? Will they ever come?’
    Even as the mixed hoofs of the mules,
    The quivering-bellied mules,
    And the rushing wheels all mixed
    With his tortured upturned sight.

    So we crashed round the bend,
    We heard his weak scream,
    We heard his very last sound,
    And our wheels grazed his dead face.

    This item is from The First World War Poetry Digital Archive, University of Oxford (https://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ww1lit/edu...als/intro/rose); © POEMS OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR: ‘NEVER SUCH INNOCENCE’, ED. MARTIN STEPHEN (EVERYMAN, 1995), p. 148-50.

    Contributors


    1. The shafts of a cart or carriage, here carrying barbed wire. See J.W. Brooke archival photos of cart and mules or horses drawing the cart. Brushwood track was necessary because of the mud. 
    2. Barbed wire, used to protect the trench against enemy raiders. See photo “Barbed wire gate to let down to form a block against raiders.” 
    3. The vital fluid in the veins of the gods in classical mythology. 
    • Was this article helpful?